Sunday, June 10, 2012

Prometheus: Wholly Engaging and Utterly Without Redeeming Value

Warning: the following piece of writing goes on for far too long. 

The remarkable thing about the first Alien film is that its makers seem very clearly (to me, anyhow) to have had nothing much on their minds. Whatever may be said about the film - that it deals with rape, capitalism, and/ or the menacing violence of the phallus, say - with the possible exceptions of H.R. Giger's self-consciously sexual design sensibility, or any borrowings that may have taken place from David Cronenberg's Shivers, one gets the impression that no one involved, from Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett to Ridley Scott, was consciously, intelligently TRYING to craft a story that was an allegory for anything. No: they were pretty clearly TRYING to tell a story about a bunch of people on a spacecraft being menaced by an alien, and not a whole lot more. However coherent an interpretation of a film might be arrived at after the fact of its making - and I fully grant that Alien is a rich, rich film to interpret - it's often ultimately like an interpretation of a dream; just because a dream has meaning and coherence doesn't mean that someone consciously planted it there. The stuff of dreams just swims up from the soup of your subconscious, often fully formed, and is greatly expanded upon and enriched by interpretation after the fact. While there are storytellers - often cinema's more serious artists, like Cronenberg - who operate in a different way, beginning with ideas and crafting stories to expand upon and explore them - the vast majority of meanings in stories likely emerge far more by accident than design, especially in genre cinema. Anyone who has ever written anything without realizing what they were writing about until they read it back knows how this stuff works; it's a testament to the richness of human creativity that it does. Surrealists invested a vast amount of time and energy trying to create works of art - or to find methods of creating the same - that directly tapped into the subconscious, but all you really need to do is to tell a story and not think too much about what it means, and let the meaning emerge naturally, as a bi-product. Alien is the perfect example of this; no matter how rich an interpretation of the film one arrives at, one would be foolish to give Ridley Scott, or Dan O'Bannon, or Ronald Shusett a whole lot of credit for it (or to hold them too much to task, if one's reading of the film happens to be negative).They weren't TRYING to say a damn thing with Alien, but produced a very meaningful, provocative, and enduring piece of cinema nonetheless. Neat how that works, eh?

The main trouble with Prometheus is that the film TRIES to engage in conscious meaning making more or less from the outset. It strains, it struggles, it strives to pack its narrative with allegorical import. It announces at every turn that it is a film about the origins of life; about the need for faith; about the questing nature of science; and about the nature of death, destruction, and self-sacrifice. It does this in part by having pretty much all of these themes come up in explicit conversation (because visually, there aren't many new ideas here beyond Giger's; there are some cool bits of imaginary technology, but that's about all). It invests great import in certain loaded symbols, too, like the crucifix worn by the main scientist (Noomi Rapace, of the original Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels). Finally, in keeping with a film about serious themes, it creates a somber mood and underscores its portent with a heavy, brooding, dramatic score. One reason it does all this is presumably because Ridley Scott has been somehow along the way been mistaken for an "important" filmmaker with things to say, and therefore is expected to make an important film (I have said elsewhere that I'm presently more interested in his brother, Tony's, films, because while they are often asinine, they are at least completely devoid of pretense). Another might be because someone somewhere feels the need to justify the existence of the story, by making it seem like it is about something - likely because they figure they can convince more people to pay to see it, that way. All of this is very different from having an IDEA that you wish to impart, however. Wanting to SEEM like you  have something to say and HAVING SOMETHING TO SAY are two very different things indeed, just like TRYING to do something and DOING it are kind of antithetical. While in Alien, meaning emerges naturally in spite of the lack of an intelligent designer, in Prometheus, meaning cannot emerge naturally because several not-so-intelligent designers - including Ridley Scott and the writing team of Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, one of whom was involved in the similarly manipulative Lost - are striving at every juncture to create the illusion of meaning, to, essentially, fake it, to dupe the audience into believing that they're seeing something of value. This striving to fake meaning does nothing but inhibit any natural human creativity or spontaneous access to the subconscious that can emerge through the act of storytelling; it creates, in fact, a kind of oppressive miasma around Prometheus, a heavy-handed seriousness in no way justified by any coherent interpretation that may be made of the film (least as far as *I* can see). As the saying goes, "if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit" - or better yet, make them THINK you're brilliant, while having absolutely not one fucking thing to say.

If anything, what Prometheus seems to be "about" in fact has less to do with the origins of life, the need for faith, or so forth, but the conditions of production and reception of the film. Besides needing to seem like it has something on its mind when it doesn't, and thus perpetuate the illusion that Ridley Scott is some sort of serious artist or  auteur, which is patently not the case, the film has to fulfill at least three functions, as part of the income-generating process it is caught up in: to give the audience an immersive, engaging cinematic experience that they will recommend to others; to set up, like the recent prequel to The Thing, the circumstances that we encounter in the first Alien movie; and to justify a franchise to follow.

Prometheus succeeds spectacularly on the first and third counts; aside from exactly one jackass who kept checking his cellphone, creating a little blue pocket of light around him in the midst of the multiplex, the rather large opening weekend audience was as rapt and attentive throughout the film as any I have seen. I was in a position to know, because I sat in the very back row, and could observe them: for the most part, they did not chat, rustle their popcorn, get up to go to the washroom, laugh at inappropriate points, snore, make out, or do anything to suggest impatience, derision, or distraction. Through the 124 minute runtime, they sat in utter attentive silence, completely captured by the film, watching to see where it would go, meeting it in good faith with all their faculties, hoping their investment would be rewarded. Insofar as I heard no one but myself, when I told the people I was with that I thought the film was crap, say anything negative on emerging from the theatre - everybody seemed to have liked it - I have to acknowledge that Prometheus does succeed on some level. Even I found it interesting to look at. The production design, superb 3D effects, and the skill with which the film is crafted should all be applauded. There are also interesting creatures and a talented cast, including various lesser-known actors that more devoted cinema buffs will recognize, like Sean Harris (the superbly reptilian junkie drug dealer in Harry Brown) or Red Road's Kate Dickie, who goes somewhat to waste. There's also a high profile role for Michael Fassbender, who seems so prodigiously talented in films made by Steve McQueen that I fail to understand why I've yet to really like him in anything by anyone else. Mostly, though, suspense is created in the film by continually deferring payoffs, by putting characters in situations neither we nor they understand, then failing to explain them in any satisfying way. Weird things happen; we don't know what they mean; we are compelled to want to investigate further, with the crew of the ship (also investigators) as our representatives; and our investigations are often only rewarded with more weird stuff, more questions, more deferrals.

This is also, alas, how the film sets up its following franchise: just when you think the film might actually explain why the hell you've been watching it, to answer some of the questions its posed, it defers coming to any resolution, ending in such a way that the words "To Be Continued" could easily have popped onto the screen, if people still did that. In short, the film builds suspense for two hours, then cops out; people who don't want to feel ripped off will thus have to go see the second film - good money after bad - to see if it all amounts to anything. That's showbiz.

Other than by being a fake, contrived, if brilliantly executed piece of crap, there are various other levels on which Prometheus fails. Perhaps the strangest of these - lessons could be learned from The Thing prequel, here - is that after spending two hours setting up the circumstances where we might find the dead alien "pilot" of the craft that the crew of Alien explore, the film seems to forget utterly what it's been doing, and changes the location where said alien dies. This is a puzzlingly incompetent move, but perhaps the people behind Prometheus have such a low estimate of the intelligence of their audience that they don't think anyone will notice? I'm sure I won't be alone, here, though. There are also various questions of plausibility. Throughout the film, the scientists chosen for the film's deep space mission behave pretty much with all the intelligence and caution of camp counsellors in a slasher film, doing all sorts of things that are obviously stupid, if nonetheless helpful in propelling the story forward. The first alien attack of the film occurs, for instance, when someone decides to touch a creature that appears about which he knows absolutely nothing. Supposed scientists further take off their helmets in alien environments without checking for contagion, wander off and get lost, and do various other things to hasten their demise, which we observe without feeling much interest in what's happening to them - it feels just like "stuff that happens in movies," lacking any particular human drama. In some cases, they experience transformations which are never explained, as with one character who suddenly turns up, after having been left for dead, seemingly grown in stature and able to breathe the supposedly toxic atmosphere of the planet he's on. The film's incompetence in creating characters we believe or care about is perhaps best exemplified by the scientist played by Noomi Rapace, who is driven in part (we come to understand) by the death of her parents (or such) and her desire to believe in some sort of God; though we are given all of this information and set up to understand that the cross around her neck is significant to her, none of it seems like anything more than details that might emerge in a "how to create a character" workshop in an undergraduate screenwriting course. The film fails utterly in making her seem believably human or interesting; it might be important to her, at one point, that she find a crucifix she's had taken from her, but it surely won't be important to anyone watching the film, except insofar as it leads her, predictably, into danger.

Tellingly, the only character that the filmmakers seem to have any genuine interest in or liking for is Fassbender's android, who, because he is the character most obviously driven by sheer amoral curiosity, is perhaps the best analog in the film for its ideal viewer - someone who doesn't care much what the meaning or value of anything is, as long as it is interesting. It fits that we see more of the film through the android's eyes than the protagonist's, because like an android, Prometheus itself is a soullessly mechanical creation. It is almost offensive that so cold and indifferent a product presumes to somehow deal with the origins and meaning of human life - except this paradox is also the most interesting thing about the movie, the level where maybe meaning really does start to creep into the film, unobserved by the non-authors at the helm. If Prometheus is about anything, it's about how cinema these days tends to look at the world through eyes that have no soul behind them, about how the human capacity for meaning making and understanding is gradually being replaced by commerce and technology, at least insofar as cinema is concerned. As Romy Schneider's character says of TV in Death Watch, it's a world where everything is interesting, and nothing matters (except, of course, making money). The image from the film above is perhaps the key one in the film - and even it betrays a certain incoherence in Prometheus, since Fassbender's android is supposed to be completely devoid of emotions, but shows wonder and excitement at various points in the film.

Prometheus is  interesting, entertaining, and enjoyable as an immersive film experience. It is also depressing, vacuous, and cynical - a fake story, told by fake storytellers, who really only want your money, while pretending to care about so much more. While attendees of the multiplex may not realize this, such cynical vacuity is not, in fact, a necessary precondition to the cinema transaction. There are films out there that really ARE about important issues, filmmakers for whom meaning-making and storytelling are not simply a pretext for separating you from your dollars. One such film, for instance, is David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, which opened on the same day as Prometheus. Maybe you should consider going to see it, instead? It's better for you, believe me, even if you'll probably have more fun at Prometheus.

You ever feel like you've been cheated?

AFTERWORD: Tom Charity sends this link to a very funny working through of some of Prometheus' incoherences.


Anonymous said...

"after spending two hours setting up the circumstances where we might find the dead alien "pilot" of the craft that the crew of Alien explore, the film seems to forget utterly what it's been doing, and changes the location where said alien dies."

What? It's a different planet and a different pilot. Even that much of the movie should be blatantly obvious. Just needed to find one more thing to pick at, eh? It's not a direct prequel and the filmmakers and writers have said as much in the months leading up to this movie. Carry on...

Anonymous said...

"after spending two hours setting up the circumstances where we might find the dead alien "pilot" of the craft that the crew of Alien explore, the film seems to forget utterly what it's been doing, and changes the location where said alien dies."

At some point in the film the name of the planet in question is mentioned -- and it's not the same planet as the one in Alien. So by the time Ripley & co. come along, there are *two* planets with crash landed alien ships on them.

I believe the script got worked on as an Alien prequel for the longest time and they meant to have the space jockey die in the position seen in Alien. But at some point someone got the bright idea that this could actually be the start of a new franchise, so they simply changed the name of the planet and were no longer forced to connect Prometheus and Alien.

Allan MacInnis said...

I buy that, as an explanation of how the screenplay might have gotten changed - but it still shows a pretty low level of respect for storytelling, to play it that way. ("So what, we'll just change the name of the planet and fix it later, who cares?") - especially since only a rabid geek (no offense) will even notice that this isn't supposed to be the planet from the original film... Everything else suggests this IS that planet, and I'd imagine my assumption here is pretty commonplace. There's a simple lack of respect for storytelling evident throughout the this film - or maybe it's a lack of respect for the audience...

Allan MacInnis said...

Oh, to the first commenter - nope, wasn't blatantly obvious to me in the slightest. And jeez, you think I've been following the press on a film like this? I have much, much better things to invest my energies in, re: cinema...

Unknown said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the review. I enjoyed the movie, would probably see it again. But nothing was ever answered, and I left the movie along with my fried feeling empty, as if something was out of place. It seems to me that that the movie was edited to the point where it no longer made sense. And the lack of professionalism among the crew was remarkable.

The whole thing just feels disjointed as if there is some reflection of the movie akin to Plato's perfect forms lying somewhere just beyond our grasp. It is broken in a way I have never seen a movie broken before; hurried but long, meaningful but not, good but bad. Not good and bad but it seems to occupy each of these places at the same time. Bizarre.

Allan MacInnis said...

James - first off, thanks for posting under your name! There are far too many people hiding behind "Anonymous" online.

And yes, there IS the feeling that there's stuff that was cut from the film that might give it more meaning or clarity. The android's concern with Lawrence of Arabia, for instance - in particular, the quoting of the "match" scene from that film - sure seems like it's telegraphing something to come, but it seems mostly (as suggested in the comments of the bit of humour under the link from Tom Charity) to serve to explain his dyeing his hair, or his quoting of a single line of dialogue from the film, much later. This in particular suggests missing material to me - the use made of the film reference is too slight to explain why it's in there at all. Perhaps a longer director's cut will be sold to us at a later date, reinstating it? (Or maybe it will be dealt with in the sequels). I don't think it will fix the many problems of the film, but it might make certain scenes a bit less confusing/ unsatisfying.

The curious thing about the accomplishment of Prometheus is that, as risible and borderline offensive as it is as an act of storytelling, it's visually compelling enough that I would almost consider seeing it again myself, were I richer man with more free time. Sounds like you're the same. It IS an engaging piece of crap...

CMcMahon said...

Space jockeys use xenos as biological weapons, as evidenced in Alien/Aliens.

Space jockeys ALSO use cobra-things as biological weapons, as evidenced in Prometheus.

Xenos follow this basic order/heirarchy, according to Alien canon: Queen creates facehuggers, facehuggers impregnate victims, victims give birth to drones which take on some characteristics of the host (ex: bipedal, quadrupedal, dreadlocks), drones protect queen or mutate into queen in case of lone drone situation.

Cobra-things mutate people into zombies and are sometimes actually giant squid, and the giant squid impregnate victims, and the victims give birth to pointy-headed xenos that don't really resemble the host and don't have the toothed-tongue deal.


Allan MacInnis said...

Wasn't the giant squid actually Noomi's abortion, still alive and grown enormous? That means that the black goo that made her guy sick caused his semen to change so she would give birth to that creature, which wasn't really a squid but a giant facehugger. So really it all starts with the black goo, which we presume the canisters are full of - a rather overly complicated bioweapon, if you ask me. The other squid things (the "hey there little guy" guy, say) are actually not connected to the other aliens, I don't think, are just some other malignant, maybe indigenous lifeform that happens by.

But you know, I could be wrong about all that...

By the by, the whole "it's not supposed to be the Alien planet thing" doesn't make any sense to me. The film makes a HUGE deal about the "alien gun" coming out of the floor of the craft and about positioning the alien in the driver's seat, so that, we assume, he can die there. The whole business about crashing the ship also seems to create the impression that the film is creating the situation that Ripley and co. stumble into. True, we don't see a cargo hold full of eggs, but who knows, maybe the canisters are going to mutate at some point? The room certainly brings the egg-room to mind (and may not be the only cargo hold on the ship). SURELY the percentage of people entering the theatre who will notice that the name of the planet, which I don't even recall seeing, doesn't match the one in Alien will be much, much smaller than the percentage who assume that this is the planet from that film. The film wants to have it every which way - it's just another sign of the extreme disrespect the people behind it, for the Alien films, for their audience, and for storytelling.

Anonymous said...

Second commenter here. Forgot to mention I totally agree with your review. The script is an insult, truly. You're also correct about your assumption being commonplace. I missed the planet name change in the cinema, too.

Anonymous said...

White on black is REALLY hard to read, especially a long piece like this one. Not a huge deal to copy the text and paste it to Word, but right now, a few paragraphs in, my retinae are burnt.

Anonymous said...

"By the by, the whole "it's not supposed to be the Alien planet thing" doesn't make any sense to me." ... "The film wants to have it every which way - it's just another sign of the extreme disrespect the people behind it, for the Alien films, for their audience, and for storytelling."

So true. I'm fairly certain the decision to change the name of the planet was done very late in the process, or even during the filming. Considering how haphazard the script is, I would not be at all surprised to learn it went down like this:

Lindelof: "Oh hey, we can chuck in one more action scene by having the pissed-off space jockey come after Shaw in the lifeboat!"

Spaiths: "Dunno why he would do that since there are more ships on the planet he could use to leave... but OK, sure. So how does Shaw defeat this superstrong being?"

L: "Lemme think. Ah, Shaw's alien offspring of course. It's grown massive and Shaw unleashes it on the space jockey. Done and dusted!"

S: "So the offspring kills the space jockey in the lifeboat. But he's supposed to die in the seat like we saw in Alien, remember? We talked about this with Ridley many times; it's the thing that ties Prometheus to Alien."

L: "Crap, you're right. Hmm. Oh. Hah. Heh. Oh, it's brilliant. Damon, you magnificent bastard, you done it again! IT'S NOT THE SAME PLANET! And it's not an Alien prequel at all, but the start of a totally new franchise! Ka-ching, dude!"

S: "You're an idiot. I quit."

Erin Guinan said...

"The other squid things (the "hey there little guy" guy, say) are actually not connected to the other aliens, I don't think, are just some other malignant, maybe indigenous lifeform that happens by. "

They were the earth-worms that were in that area, they showed them wriggling around in the ooze when they first found the Engineer's head.

Having said that, the "rules" of the black ooze are extremely disjointed. Maybe they should've made this film in The X-Files universe, at least their black ooze seemed to have a coherent manifestation...

Shapless said...

Totally agree with everything you have said so far. Yes, the planet that Prometheus lands on and the one the Nastromo lands on are two different planets. But, I can totally see where the average viewer would not 'get' that point. The film is simply not clear about all that.

As an aside, I have a book called "The Book of Alien" that shows that one of the original concepts for the original story was to have the crew discover a pyramid type structure on the planet that held the aliens. There are also numerous concepts in Prometheus that harken back to specific concept paintings/illustrations from Alien. My feeling is that Ridley Scott saw those images recently and thought, "Hey, you could make in interesting movie out of just these few drawings.

Colin Asquith said...

I really enjoyed this review, it was quite thought provoking and well thought out, two things I don't think Prometheus quite managed to pull off.

The film as a visual spectacle was fantastic, I enjoyed watching it a lot, but the characters just didn't seem to connect for me. It felt very vague- I do like things being left open so you can interpret them in your own way - but it felt like the whole film was very vague with each scene seeming to add more questions than answers.

I suppose that life itself has the same number of questions, and maybe it's a clever nod to that, that maybe we'll never understand life. Ultimately it was a bunch of people I didn't care about, acting in ways which made no sense, getting into trouble from goo I didn't understand, resulting in vague consequences from creatures with some kind of unexplained motivation.

For me this kind of disconnection from the people and the plot seems to happen with a lot of films Lindelhof is involved in, maybe it worked best when characters can be developed slowly as in LOST- if there is a Prometheus 2 I will happily watch it - I just feel that I am left wanting more, not because the first film was so good, but because I feel there is so much more they could have done.

Unknown said...

While it's not the perfect prequel everyone was hyped up to and hoped it to be, I think the frustration here seems to stem from the fact that it is not the movie that you want it to be - the direct prequel.

Whether or not this new spiritual prequel is out to get our money by attempting to create a new franchise, it doesn't erase the fact that Prometheus did answer (in part) some of the most sought after answers the Alien fans (like me) had been wanting to find out - Who is the Space Jockey? And where did the Xenomorphs come from?

Admittedly I consider myself a pretty forgiving movie fan, and I acknowledge that this film is not perfect, it is definitely not the insulting piece of hot dunk that you seem to be so intent on spelling it out to be.

Not all movies are meant to be a masterpiece, and probably this one isn't, but it doesn't mean the makers did not put their heart and mind into it, and hoped for the best. It just seems a bit unfair to me for someone to put down a movie, especially one with such production value, in such a way to the point where it's "without redeeming value".

So it does not lead up directly to the story in Alien, and maybe that's why Ridley has been adamant about calling it a direct prequel, in order to not mislead the viewers into thinking it will lead up directly to the events in Alien.

And probably also because we have already seen all the forms and shapes previous generation of Xenomorphs have already appeared in, I think it's a good thing that Ridley decided to bring the franchise to a new/fresh direction.

I for one, would love to find out more about the Engineers and perhaps in the process, what part the Xenomorphs play in their grand scheme of things.

So I guess I'm on the side of the camp that does like this movie, eventhough part of me did feel disappointed after walking out of my first viewing of the movie and didn't think a second viewing would be desired. But as it is, after my second viewing, I seem to like it more, and it seems pretty obvious to me from the reviews and opinions, that this movie has pretty much a divided audience. Perhaps future will tell, if this movie will stand the test of time.

timqueeney said...

One aspect of the film that intrigued me was David speaking to the Engineer. What did he say to him? With David's obvious distaste for humans, could he have told the engineer that the humans were there to destroy him? And the Engineer instantly reacted by attacking them. I thought this point in the film was a lost opportunity: a dialog with the Engineer, even if it didn't "explain" anything could have been fascinating in the hands of a good writer. Instead, the Engineer goes all "le hulk blanc" on the humans. He is bigger and presumably more intelligent, why does he feel so threatened? It was pure movie monsterism.

Ken said...

I think that you are nit-picking, Mr. MacInnis. David's affection with Lawrence of Arabia bit. In the "viral" ads and trailers leading up to the release of the movie, they were trying to sell us on the fact that the David androids were very much like humans, and had emotions to a certain point. I think that if you had seen this, it may have made a bit more sense. I admit that it didn't really "serve a purpose", except to show how human-like the android was...because without this, all of the scenes between the male archaeologist and the android are moot (the teasing back and forth).

And I believe all of THAT was put in place to show that David (by himself) *DOES* have a personality, and while he may be following the orders of Mr. Weyland, he is going about those orders in his own way and not a "Go here and get this thing. Turn the object 90° and open it. Stick your finger in the goop and smell it." sense, but in a "do it as you see fit" outlook. It added to his "humanity", thus showing that even an android can make mistakes.

The "cute face-huggers" weren't indiginous...we didn't see them until they entered the room and the cannisters started "sweating" when the atmosphere was thrown out of balance. This could have caused whatever stasis that the cannisters were in to fail, releasing the bioweapon-goo. However, when this was done (and I presume more moisture was in the air), there is a shot of worms in the soil when they are walking in. I mean, the planet can sustain life (they said you can live without your helmet for a few minutes), so why not worms? I think the bio-goop took on the "cute" face-hugger form based on the form of the worms in the soil as the room started getting covered in the bio-goop-sweat-melt.

If the bio-goop's DNA said "mimic the form of whatever 'better host' you find, but keep the same survival tactic (ie - face hugging)", this makes perfect sense - it took the form of the only nearby host that it could infect (the worms) but kept the face-hugging. Maybe at a later point, it takes the fingers/bones/spine from us, and creates the face-hugging aliens from the Alien franchise...we have a spine, and we have 20 appendages (10 fingers/toes), so this would make sense that it would evolve in this way.

The long and short of it is, that we don't know what Scott's ideas were for the movie - neither you nor I can read minds. And neither of us (or humanity for that matter) are at the technilogical level of creating bioweapons of this order. Which means that comments made by you or I can be taken with as few grains of salt as possible, as we have no idea what we're talking about.

So as I said - you're nit-picking. Yes, there were questions left unanswered, but the issues that you've expressed with "the alien can't look like that because the Engineer didn't look l ike that" doesn't hold up. You don't happen to have a PhD in xenobiology and a secret space-ship that takes you to other planets to study, do you?

While I don't agree with all points in your review, I do agree with some of them, and wanted to say that it was a very well-written review. Cheers,


Fred said...

A truly great critic, not just of Prometheus but of cinema in general. Professional critics don't even do that anymore. They just give you a synopsis of the film and comment on the acting. Acting is just one of the many factors that make a good film. What about, pacing, direction of photography, sound mixing, music and obviously, the script. Though great scripts can become aweful movies if the previous factors are not well executed.

I am sick of reading "A great summer entertainment with a solid performance by Fassbender". That's no critic, it's a mere point of view by someone who doesn't have anything to say.

Your theory in the introduction is also really interesting, as it can be applied to so many movies (e.g., Star Wars). Anyway, thank you.

Allan MacInnis said...

Yoiks! Someone must have posted a link to this on Metafilter or sumfin' - I've never had as many comments in so short a time.

Random responses - yeah, white on black IS kinda hard to read; I highlight the text myself when reading it, sometimes. But I like the template, so...

PTeittinen - if I were the type to LOL, I would LOL here.

Colin - rather than merely typing LOL, I actually DID laugh out loud reading your comment. Very good stuff.

Joe Yun - actually, I wrote the above without having caught that it wasn't a direct prequel, because it sure seemed like one to me - just one that didn't bother much with consistency or coherency. I rather agree with the interpretation offered by a few people now, that in fact it WAS at some phase a direct prequel set on Nostromo-planet, but that it all got changed for franchising purposes. But you know, I don't think any of that really matters to my objections to the film... I have no particular investment in the Alien series, couldn't care less if this film is or isn't true to the "rules." It fails quite on its own, insults my intelligence all on its own.

Ken - that's some elaborate thinking on the goop, but it makes sense. Re: not knowing what Scott's ideas were for the movie, I agree - clearly we don't, and some of this is sheer speculation - but that's part of the problem I have with the film: because SHOULDN'T WE have some idea of what the ideas were, having seen the film?

Re: "the alien can't look like that because the Engineer didn't look like that" - actually, that must be someone else's writing you're referring to, because I don't recall saying anything of the sort. I have no objection to the alien design in the film, thought the giant squid facehugger was pretty funky. The design of Prometheus is pretty consistently impressive.

Fred - thanks for the compliments! I think that part of the sorry state of film criticism these days has a lot to do with the ways in which the industry has found a way to compromise and buy out publications and journalists; read Jonathan Rosenbaum on "Junket Bonds" in this case:

There are still plenty of good critics out there, though, if you dig. And actually, I was under the impression that Star Wars was VERY consciously written by George Lucas as a hero's journey movie, that he'd been reading a lot of Joseph Campbell and designed the film for maximum archetypal resonance.

PaulB said...

The difficulty you're having understanding the "it's a different planet" bit is the only thing I disagree with here, and that's a biggie. Seriously, if you watched ALIEN, you shouldn't have any trouble with this.

In Alien, the dead Jockey had been there so long it had fossilized--they say so IN THE MOVIE. Also, the design of the room is different--no stasis pods, for instance--so it's clearly not the same room.

Instead, just as in the real world, there were multiple Jockeys on multiple ships.

There is nothing difficult about this concept, yet you keep resisting it because you just want to snipe at it. Look, the movie SUCKED in my opinion, but the planet/jockey/ship being different from the ones is Alien is GLARINGLY obvious to anyone who paid any attention to Alien and Prometheus while watching the movies.

Allan MacInnis said...

Um. Okay, thanks.

Anonymous said...

The cross-promotion with Coors Light should have been a clue that this movie would disappoint.

Unknown said...

I was all ready with a piece about the depth in this movie being lipstick on a pig but something was troubling me.

There is a compelling consideration of the alien fashioning himself as a Lawrence of Arabia. He is arguably the most fleshed out character in the film, and is in the center of the creation conundrum. Since Ridley Scott also did Blade Runner, the alien in this film, I believe, has emotion and desire just as the replicants did and arguably Ford himself (if you belive he was a replicant). There is no proof he ever followed a single order and was not acting on his own curiosities. His doping the drink with the black ooze could have been curiosity or revenge, either way it was selfish. And Weyland referred to him as his son. Would you create a son as a slave?

And the storage facility, fashioned like temples, with a humanoid head and rising above that the alien etching, all points to a sort of religiosity. The aliens were fanatics, justified in their actions by a deeper belief in something greater than themselves. In the end, the alien reacted to the humans with impunity and seemed almost insulted by their presence, in just as petty a fashion as Weyland did by searching out his makers only to ask for more life. The makers, at the top of the food chain simply because they created us, turn out to be almost identical to us in their ridiculous beliefs and technological horrors. Is the alien rising above the head because it is considered a technological marvel, a being so perfect. The other films refer to it as such.

And how might we prove this theory - because the android in this film is actually the thing at the top of the food chain. The android is what the makers feared humans would be, superior to it's creators. We didn't fashion something of ourselves, we fashioned something completely apart, superior in everything but, theoretically, emotion. Perhaps the maker wasn't so insulted by the humans as their bringing such a being into his presence. Note that there has never been any hint of anything akin to androids created by the makers.

Perhaps the maker hit Wayland first, the most frail in the group, for being such a selfish moron, and then the android for being such an abomination. And then kill them all for being so foolish as to bring such a form into this world. And punish the whole race for having such impunity as to rise to our level, to travel our stars, to fight our demons. Prometheus?

I find it also curious that the ship was meant to lift off right around the time of Christ. Religion plays a major theme here.

No, it turns out I am quite happy with this movie. I just needed to digest it a bit. In the end, the last one standing is the android, he is the only one who can speak the alien language, he flies the ship, he saves the girl, he is not capable of being a host to the aliens, he does not need special suits to move in the atmosphere. The android is the center of the movie, it is all about him, his curiosity, and his manipulation of us. But he is a creation of the humans, just as we are creations of the makers, just as the aliens are creations of the makers. It's a mixed bag. David is not evil even if he is not good. The aliens are evil in the sense that nothing can coexist with them. The makers and the humans are obviously both good and evil but mostly stupid. Whoever created all of it certainly did one thing, he built flaws into every being, perfection is not in the cards. David is not exception. He just hasn't learned humility yet.

Paul Lynch said...

I agree with the excellent review, basically the film is sh*t. I have seen it twice and I was just as utterly lost the second time. Its just a bunch of "cool" scfi scenes loosely tied together with a half baked plot. The writers are horrible and should be banned from pen and paper. And why did the geologist not take any rocks? Its a friggin alien planet?! When I watch Alien again I will blank this movie out much like when I watch the original Star Wars movies.

Anonymous said...

So sad, yet another person without an imagination, who needs every answer to every question spoon fed to him. You must have had problems with Harry Potter, eh?

There are so many ways to interpret things in this movie, and that's the beauty of it. For instance: Who said that the "being" at the beginning of the movie was doing what he did of his own free will? Why did the one on the ship look exactly the same? Could it be that these being were created by a mast race, and used to "seed" planets, the way the one did at the beginning of the movie? And what would happen if these "seeds" somehow fought back against the creators, took over, and wanted to destroy all of the planets the creators had seeded? This is just one of many ways to interpret this aspect of the movie, and with more viewings, more details will be seen, and new interpretations will be made. Or, you could go watch a movie that takes zero brain power, and two weeks later completely forget about it, instead of think about it for years to come.

Allan MacInnis said...

Hey, are you one of the writers of Prometheus, by any chance?

LittleFury said...

Here's what makes me nuts about this film: we're told through the pile of dead engineers (and the conveniently expository hologram showing them running from something) and by Space Stringer Bell that the Engineers abandoned their weapons lab when one of their creations turned against them, the implication being is that it's the xenomorphs. Indeed they take great pains to show us a big ass carving of a xenomorph inside the temple of the giant head! (Image links here and here).

This would make sense and tie the film nicely back into the original, albeit not seamlessly. But no. Nothing. Whatever they created that had them running scared is never shown or mentioned again despite the build up.

Instead we get a botched abortion, a cranky giant and some black goo ripped right out of X-Files.

Eff you Lindelof!

stefaneechi said...

Kinda bitchy dude 😝
Well written yes, but I disagree that it’s a fundamentally flawed film. Yes it’s another spoke in the franchise wheel, but I didn’t mind that it set itself up for another chapter. I was hella looking forward to David and Noomi meeting up with the Engineers. Actually I think your cynicism about this film is a better fit with Covenant - that one had lots of fan service, and felt more like a paint by numbers Alien action flick imho.